Posted by: rcottrill | November 1, 2009

Lord’s Day Meditation – Why?

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. (Ps. 42:5)

“His countenance” (or His face) is a Hebrew expression referring to God’s presence and intervening help. The psalmist is telling himself, “Hope in God; He will help you!”

The verse and chapter divisions in our Bibles are not part of the inspired text. They were added much later to help us locate the passages we want. And the verse division at this point is probably incorrect. The words that begin vs. 7 likely belong to vs. 6. The Bible in Basic English seems to have it right, with, “Why are you crushed down, O my soul? and why are you troubled in me? put your hope in God; for I will again give him praise who is my help and my God.”

There is at least one ancient Hebrew manuscript that has it that way. And the latter rendering has a better poetic cadence, as well as matching vs. 12 and Ps. 43:5. (Many old Hebrew manuscripts also combine Ps. 42 and 43, which would mean that our verse is a kind of refrain, three times repeated in the full psalm.)

But there is that jarring question to deal with: “Why are you cast down?” Why bowed down and virtually in despair? Why? And there are many possible answers. Here are a few.

  • Perhaps the person suffers from some physical weakness, an illness, or chronic disability, or possibly a mental-emotional disorder that leaves him or her vulnerable to discouragement.
  • Perhaps there is unconfessed sin to be dealt with, sin that is hindering the person’s fellowship with God and an effective ministry for Him.
  • The trials of life, common to all in this fallen world, can at times drag us down and dishearten us. Even the sagging economy can have this depressing effect.
  • Added to this, the burdens of Christian ministry are great, and can be overwhelming for the servant of God at times (cf. Rom. 9:1-3; II Cor. 11:28).
  • The attacks of Satan, the enemy of our souls, can bring on such feelings. And the devil has many human agents who willingly do his evil work. That was the psalmist’s particular problem, enemies that mocked him because God didn’t seem to be coming to his rescue (Ps. 42:3, 9-10; Ps. 43:1).

With all of this in view, perhaps the question could as well be, “Why not?” Discouragement and even despair is surely not surprising. And yet there is a remedy in God. Despair is actually the antithesis of hope.  It sees nothing better up ahead, and no relief in sight. But there is a glorious future for each child of God. Sometimes it helps, when we’re going through such a time, to look in the mirror and give ourselves a good talking to! That seems to be what the psalmist is doing by the repeated refrain of these two psalms. But there has to be more than that. More than simply our determination and effort.

There is a dimension that is missing from the pop psychology and secular self help techniques of our day. Here the psalmist brings to mind the greatness of God, and His power, and he prays for help. He prays honestly about how he feels, and calls upon the Lord to come to his aid. He also reflects upon the blessings of past days (vs. 4). And he challenges himself to continue to hope in the Lord, and expresses his confidence for the future: “I shall yet praise Him.” Brethren Bible teacher F. W. Grant writes:

Hope thou in God. Yes, here is what is permanent, what is eternal: hope in God even though thou canst not find Him; though clouds are round about Him, and thou canst not come unto His seat; though His ways are deepest mystery; though even thou couldst not find a promise thou couldst claim undoubtedly. He Himself is promise!…In Himself thou canst find refuge….Can He say, “You have trusted Me too much?” Nay, He cannot. Here is His word at last that applies, if nothing else does: “Blessed are all they who put their trust in Him” (Ps. 2:12).

From Nahum Tate’s metrical version of Ps. 42 we have:

As pants the hart for cooling streams,
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for Thee
And Thy refreshing grace.

Why restless, why cast down, my soul?
Hope still; and thou shalt sing
The praise of Him who is thy God,
Thy health’s eternal spring.


  1. Thank you kind sir for posting these daily. I have come and enjoyed your site after seeing another lady’s post on her blog. I love the words of these old hymns and it is quite interesting to know some background. I know many songs have come from someone going through difficulties and finding strength and hope from God and His word.

    God Bless!

    • You’re very welcome. Glad to know the word-of-mouth (or word-of-blog!) is helping others to discover Wordwise Hymns. If you feel inclined to put a link to me on your own site, that would spread the word further still.

      And you’re certainly right about many of our hymn writers going through times of suffering. If you check out my article Suffering Hymn Writers you’ll discover many of them lived with disabilities too. God bless.


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